Ship attacked off coast of Yemen as Houthi rebel campaign appears reinvigorated

‘Vessel and all crew are safe,’ says UK maritime trade center; Houthis yet to claim responsibility for assault, which comes day after strike on US ship ended weekslong Red Sea lull

Illustrative: Houthi supporters attend a rally against the United States and Israel and in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Sanaa, Yemen, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)
Illustrative: Houthi supporters attend a rally against the United States and Israel and in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Sanaa, Yemen, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)

A ship traveling in the Gulf of Aden came under attack Thursday, officials said, the latest assault likely carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels over Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The attack comes after the United States military said early Thursday that an allied warship had shot down a Houthi missile targeting a vessel the day before near the same area. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the Wednesday assault, which came after a period of relatively few attacks on shipping in the region, which the Yemeni rebels say they are carrying out in support of the Palestinians amid the Gaza war.

In Thursday’s attack, a ship was targeted just over 25 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of Aden, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations Center said.

The captain “reports a loud bang heard and a splash and smoke seen coming from the sea,” the UKMTO said. “Vessel and all crew are safe.”

The attack was also reported by the private security firm Ambrey.

The Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack, though it typically takes them hours to acknowledge an assault. European Union forces separately shot down a drone launched from Houthi territory on Thursday, said Gen. Robert Brieger, chairman of the EU military committee.

The Houthis have since November launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sank another, according to the US Maritime Administration.

Illustrative: A handout picture provided by the Yemeni Al-Joumhouriya TV on February 26, 2024, shows the Rubymar cargo ship sinking off the coast of Yemen, a week after being targeted in a Houthi attack. (Al-Joumhouriya TV/AFP)

Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the rebels have been targeted by a US-led airstrike campaign in Yemen, and shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat. American officials have speculated that the rebels may be running out of weapons as a result of both the US-led campaign against them and their steady firing of drones and missiles in the last months.

Wednesday’s attack was the first one by rebels in some time. An explosion struck some 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden, the UKMTO said.

Early Thursday, the US military’s Central Command said the explosion came from a coalition warship shooting down the missile likely targeting the MV Yorktown, a US-flagged, owned and operated vessel with 18 US and four Greek crew members.

“There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition or commercial ships,” Central Command said.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a Houthi military spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack, but insisted without evidence that the missile had hit the Yorktown. Saree also claimed the Houthis targeted another ship in the Indian Ocean, without providing proof. The Houthis have made repeated claims that turned out to be false during their yearslong war in Yemen.

The Houthis have said they will continue their attacks until Israel ends its war in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians there, according to the Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry. The figure, which cannot be independently verified, does not distinguish between combatants and civilians, and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

The war began after thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel on October 7, to kill nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and take over 250 hostages.

Most of the ships targeted by the Houthis have had little or no direct connection to Israel, the US, or other nations involved in the war. The rebels have also fired missiles toward Israel, though they have largely fallen short or been intercepted.

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